Eavesdropping on reform: Tapping into local perceptions of active learning in a Maldivian island community

Year: 2012

Author: Biase, Rhonda Di

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Like many developing countries, the Maldives has promoted the use of active learning pedagogy, based on constructivist approaches to learning, in an effort to improve the quality of education.  The aim of this ongoing qualitative study is to investigate how teachers learn and enact active learning pedagogy within the Maldivian education system.  Using design-based research, an interventionist methodology, the conditions under which active learning can be enacted was investigated through a contextual analysis and a pedagogical intervention.  The site for the study was an island school, selected for offering optimum conditions for implementation of the intervention.  The contextual analysis, providing the basis on which to develop the pedagogical intervention, was conducted with parents, teachers and school leadership to understand local needs and perceptions of active learning.  This paper reports findings from the contextual analysis.

Data was collected through multiple methods.  The World Cafe, a participatory approach to data collection, was adapted for use with stakeholders within the school community.  A series of visual and graphic elicitation techniques were used to elicit stakeholder perceptions of active learning.  The purpose of these activities was to facilitate communication, without exclusive reliance on language (Bagnoli, 2009).   A questionnaire was administered to teachers to examine beliefs about learning and their attitudes to reform and interviews with senior management within the school were also undertaken.

The results revealed features of active learning considered important across the stakeholder groups which included: the active participation of students; the use of group work to aid learning; the changing role of the teacher to facilitator; the strong feature of a friendly classroom environment; and the potential of the reform to cater more equally for all students.  Positive attitudes to active learning reform were clearly articulated.  These findings contrast to the predominant transmission model of teaching typically found in Maldivian classrooms.

The need for more contextually relevant pedagogical innovations has been widely documented.  The World Café activities were designed to document the different perspectives of stakeholders within the island community and facilitate a community process in building a vision of active learning suitable for the island school.   This paper concludes that what happens in the classroom between teacher and student is at the heart of the reform but the importance of the context in adapting the reform to the local setting is seen as critical and provides a basis on which to build a contextually relevant pedagogical intervention.